Reasons why you should switch up your skincare routine in winter

Actress Lupita Nyong'o shows off her glowing skin at the 2022 Vanity Fair Oscar Party.
Actress Lupita Nyong'o shows off her glowing skin at the 2022 Vanity Fair Oscar Party.
  • Winter is here and the cold weather paired with indoor heating negatively affects the skin.
  • Leading dermatologist Dr Vanessa Lapiner says that it is important to be aware of the products we use during winter.
  • Her tips on switching up your skincare routine for the cold season include levelling up your moisturiser and sunscreen.

The winter season is here and, just like the many will be switching up their dresses and sleeveless tops for trench coats and puffer jackets, skin products should also be swapped around to accommodate the weather.

Speaking to TRUELOVE, leading South African dermatologist Dr Vanessa Lapiner – who recently launched her own medical-grade products called root4 skincare – says that nourishing hydration is important for the skin during winter.

“The combo of cold weather, wind plus indoor heating is bad news for our skin barrier resulting in dry, dehydrated skin more prone to irritation and inflammation,” she says.

Adding that, “while we need to protect and support our skin barrier year-round (that swimming pool chlorine, sun and seawater also take a knock on our skin barrier in the warmer summer months), our skin’s additional hydration needs in winter means amping up our moisturiser game”.

She tells us more about how colder months affect the skin and the importance of using the correct products during winter.

How colder months affect the skin

“The most important ‘victim’ of colder, winter weather is the skin barrier. Cold weather, hot water and dry heat can all deplete our natural skin ceramides and essential fatty acids. Ceramides and essential fatty acids (think omegas and linoleic acid) are lipids in the outermost layer of the skin called the stratum corneum,” she explains.

“They form part of the gooey stuff between the skin cells, which glues them together to form a good skin barrier, ‘water-proofs’ the skin, which allows for communication between our skin cells. Essentially, the skin barrier is a little coat of armour that surrounds the skin to protect it from the outside world.

“A healthy skin barrier is what makes the difference between glowy, comfortable skin and eczema, infections, inflammation and dehydration. Essentially, it keeps the bad stuff like bacteria and pollution from getting in, while stopping the good stuff like moisture from escaping out into the atmosphere. There is even an ominous-sounding name for this process: transepidermal water loss,” she adds.

She lists six ‘culprits’ that damage the skin’s barrier:

  • Lower air humidity
  • Indoor heaters
  • Cold wind/weather conditions
  • Longer hot showers and baths
  • Over washing/over exfoliating or using too many skincare functional actives and not stepping your skincare routine back a little if your skin starts to feel a little dry

“It goes without saying that a compromised skin barrier is not good news for keeping skin plump, supple, hydrated and able to deal with winter weather. A skin with a compromised barrier is not a happy one, or a youthful one. It becomes dull, dry, flaky, red, itchy, sensitive – and older-looking. It feels tight with a rough texture,” she adds.

READ MORE | Khanyi’s Glow founder, Nokukhanya Ngcobo on glowing up the beauty industry

The key principles to keeping your skin healthy in winter:

Protect your own skin lipids by using a cleanser with gentle surfactants and dial back the exfoliation. Apart from choosing products with essential lipids like ceramides, cholesterol and free fatty acids, you need to protect your innate ones by avoiding soap because it is too alkaline and contains harsh surfactants that strip the skin. An alkaline pH blocks the enzymes we need to manufacture our own ceramides, which is why our skin feels dry, tight and uncomfortable after too much washing with the wrong soap. Over exfoliation is another lipid stealer, as are long hot baths and indoor heating without using a humidifier.

Level up your moisturiser. Winter is the time to pack away the light-weight moisturisers in favour of richer, more barrier-supporting ones. Reach for moisturisers with a higher oil content: while a lotion with a higher water content, which is more light-weight and non-greasy, is a good summer choice; better choices in winter are barrier creams, ointments and products with high oil content. Essentially, you need to feed water to the skin to hydrate it combined with something oily to prevent the water from evaporating back out. There are three main types of moisturising ingredients: in winter, you want to be using all of them:

1. Emollients plug the gaps between the surface ‘dead’ cells by replacing lipids. Look for: ceramides, free fatty acids, cholesterol, squalene and botanical oils. The lipids in our skin work best in an intricate ratio of 50 percent ceramides, 24 percent cholesterol and 15 percent free fatty acids so mimicking this ‘golden ratio’ is the best way to support a healthy skin barrier.

2. Humectants are ‘water magnets’, which draw water into the skin from the air or from the deeper layers of the skin. Look for hyaluronic acid, glycerin, lactic acid, urea and d-panthenol.

3. Occlusives ‘waterproof’ the skin and seals moisture in. Look for: shea/jojoba/cocoa butter, beeswax, plant waxes and lanolin.

When looking for a moisturiser, make sure it has the right fats to really feed your skin barrier. You want to be serving it up Michelin-star ingredients rather than fast food fillers. In the same way that canola oil is not the same as cold-pressed olive oil when it comes to your salad dressing, the quality and type of oil in your skincare is key.

Layer your moisturising products for maximal hydration from the most water-based products to the ones with the highest oil content.

- Start with a humectant (such as a serum containing hyaluronic acid or glycerin)

- Layer with a cream containing all your beautiful, functional skincare actives

- Seal the deal with a barrier cream or face oil

Add in hydrating masks to nourish and repair the skin. You could even try a sleeping or overnight mask for an added hydration boost.

READ MORE | Different types of masks you should know about

Reach for anti-inflammatory skincare. Your skin in winter is often more sensitive so load up on ingredients to soothe the skin. Favourites include d-panthenol, tetrahydrocurcuminoids from turmeric root, niacinamide, aloe vera,  bisabolol and root 4’s unique Glow4Green technology to calm down inflammation.

Listen to your skin. If your skin starts to feel sensitised or dry, give it a break from your more active skincare functional ingredients - for example, L-ascorbic acid, retinoids or chemical exfoliants such as alpha-and beta-hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs) and focus just on restoring the skin barrier. When it’s feeling more comfortable – reintroduce your ‘normal’ routine. Winter often means giving your skin more rest days.

Switch out your prescription retinoid or retinol for granactive retinoids. Retinoids (Vitamin A) are an A-list skincare ingredient targeting everything from pigmentation and acne to fine lines and wrinkles. But they can dry out the skin at the best of times so winter can really exacerbate dry, chapped, sensitive skin. Granactive retinoids are my go-to year-round but particularly during the harsher winter months. They give you all the benefits of prescription retinoids but without the irritation.

When exfoliating the skin, choose chemical exfoliants that hydrate the skin too. Lactic acid gently exfoliates while moisturising the skin – the perfect winter exfoliating choice.

Take extra care of the delicate under-eye skin. This skin is particularly prone to dehydration so you really want to upgrade your eye cream in winter.

Protect your lips. Occlusive lip balms such as lanolin really work hard to prevent chapped winter lips.

Don’t skip your sunscreen. Winter sun still has damaging UV rays. Protect your skin with sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. You might want to switch from a lighter sunscreen fluid, lotion or gel to a more moisturising cream formulation.

Remember the rest of your body. The rest of your skin takes a hammering in winter too. Upgrade your moisturiser to a thicker, richer barrier cream and don’t neglect your hands and feet. Apply within 60 seconds of coming out of your quick, lukewarm shower while the skin is still damp.

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